book review: WAR

Title: WAR
Author: Sebastian Junger
ISBN: 978-0446556248
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Twelve (May 11, 2010)
Category: current events
Review source: publisher
Rating: B+

Once again, a couple of guys with rifles have managed to jam up an entire company’s worth of infantry. Ostlund and his staff get back on the Black Hawk with Captain Kearney, and they head across the valley for Firebase Vegas. I’m standing next to a tall Marine named Cannon who tells me that the war here is way more intense than most people understand. While we’re talking the shooting starts up again, a staccato hammering that I know recognize as the .50 out at Vegas.

Best known for The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger wrote about the Boston Strangler in A Death in Belmont and being a reporter in such hot spots as Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia in Fire. In WAR, Junger travels through Afghanistan with young U.S. troops as an embedded journalist. WAR provides a violent, unflinching account of the war in Afghanistan down to the bloody details of death and the minutiae of war. Afghanistan is such a poor, vast, isolated country with plenty of places for the Taliban and Al Queda to hide. In writing this book, Junger brings much needed attention to this ongoing war on terrorism. So little is written about Afghanistan in the press yet it’s a fierce, exhaustive war. Junger also includes and honest assessment about the war in Afghanistan and the attitudes of the troops.

Stripped to its essence, combat is a series of quick decisions and rather precise actions carried out in concert with ten or twelve other men. In that sense it’s much more like football than, say, like soccer. The unit that choreographs their actions best usually wins. They might take causalities but they win.

WAR is set in three parts: FEAR, KILLING and LOVE. Junger adds extensive military history and facts throughout. When he explains fear he explains the body/mind connection and also the results of military tests [men have a greater reaction time than women]. Remaining objective as possible, Junger certainly faces numerous challenges. He often must base decisions on journalistic integrity vs. personal safety.

Soldiers use magical thinking and have varied superstitions. Most of the soldiers are in their early 20s, many with INFIDEL tattoos emblazoned on their bodies because “That’s what the enemy calls us on their radios.” War is the only thing many know at this point in their young lives. Re-entry into civilian life can often be much more complex than war for many. Having been used to the excitement and fast-paced action, suddenly many aren’t doing much of anything and want to go back. In stark conditions, stocked for months with supplies and no relief in sight, the American troops often fight an unseen enemy that hides and follows no order, no rules of engagement.

After 9/11 most people have a basic understanding of the modus operandi of terrorists. The Taliban fights dirty—snipers, sneak attacks in early morning or late night and chaos. They have numerous “counter-measures” to American attacks and are tricky to seek out and capture, mainly due to the terrain and the Taliban’s intimate knowledge of the land. Not that any war is a positive. It’s not. Junger states that the appeal of combat is not killing but protecting. WAR is an intense, gripping read.

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